Imagine a search engine that, instead of just doing text matching, attempts to parse your statement into questions it can answer, then provides you with as many of those answers as it can. Imagine a search engine that can deal with numerical relationships and analysis. Imagine a search engine that’s tailored towards returning facts and knowledge instead of websites.
Now, go watch the Wolfram Alpha demo video.
Next, imagine if you had analytical tools of this nature at your fingertips at all times, and were able to project and share them on surfaces using some form of augmented reality. Finally, imagine what this could do to intelligent argument, discussion, design, and political discourse.
Quite a step, huh?
While brain stoming with Julian about the implications of ‘always-on augmented reality’* on human communication, I decided I needed a way of collaboratively drawing mind maps so that we’d have some sort of concrete record of the ideas coming out of our conversation. Normally, I make notes of my own, but they’re hard to share meaningfully – what I really want is a shared whiteboard of some sort.
I’d not looked at networked collaboration tools in a while, and googling, I was pleased to find MindMeister, a collaborative mind-mapping that suited my needs well. It has the following nice features:
Anyway, if you’re collaborating with people over distance and you’re doing creative work, this might be worth a look to you.
Got any other cool collaboration tools you’re using? Let me know!
* I’ll write more about this later – I’m trying to differentiate my thinking from the burgeoning mass of AR demos involving a webcam, ARToolkit, and a bunch of markers. AR has so much more potential than these suggest, and I find them constraining.
Playing with a new comments plugin called IntenseDebate. Apologies if anything weird starts happening..
I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on it in detail, but I can definitely tell I want to read it. The basic premise is that the art can be explained in evolutionary terms as the emergent result of a series of adaptations supported partly by natural selection, and partly by sexual selection.
Since the borders of art are often fuzzy, he begins by establishing a working ‘cluster definition’ consisting of 12 characteristics, where anything that matches all characteristics is definitely art and anything that has none is definitely not.
Works of art:
The rest of the book applies the two elements of Darwin’s theories, natural selection and sexual selection, to art. Natural selection is what we most commonly understand as evolution, and has to do with adaptations that make us more likely to pass on our genes; an art related example is the ability to construct imaginary situations and communicate them that assists in both planning and survival. One example cited is an art experiment in which people from a wide variety of countries were polled as to their tastes in calendar pictures. These were then painted and compared, with interesting similarities – see the book Painting by numbers for an account of this.
Sexual selection, on the other hand, is poorly understood by most people, if known at all. Where natural selection deals with adaptations that help individuals survive within their environment, sexual selection deals with adaptations that help individuals compete with others of their species for mates, even at the cost of reducing their survivability. It explains peacocks tails, the antlers of reindeer and the combative mating rituals that go with them, and behaviours such as infanticide among lions. In the context of art, sexual selection ties directly into, for example, displays of skill and virtuosity.
I’m fairly certain that this will be contentious with some; it builds on evolutionary psychology, itself controversial, and undermines relativist theories of art. As I’ve mentioned above, I’ve not actually read the book, so I can’t argue it in more detail, but I find this sort of explanation a lot more accessible and plausible than relativist theories, though I’m open to these being a contributing factor layered on top. Of course, I’m an engineer, so I guess the relativist argument would be that I have a pro-science bias and relativism still holds.
Stepping back, though, we humans share a whole range of common physical attributes, all explained by evolutionary processes, and it’s absurd to think that these don’t play some role in our appreciation of art. Furthermore, neurological pathologies reveal that slight variations or damage to the physical structure of our brains results in perceptual and behavioural differences far in excess of those that exist between cultures, which suggests to me that evolutionary processes not only play some role, but play a major role in explaining art and its appreciation.
Either way, this book sounds like a fascinating read and a great starting point for discussion.
Why do I blog this?
Recently, I’ve written about music appreciation and explained taste as a set of priorities for the various attributes by which we judge a given performance. Assuming the book’s arguments hold, music, being just another form of art, can be explained in evolutionary terms. Is it reasonable to expect that music appreciation is also explainable through evolutionary principles? To what extent are our tastes defined by our genes, as opposed to our environments or simple variation?
It’s kinda awesome to see and hear people from Canterbury being interviewed like this – it’s nice to be reminded that despite New Zealand being way down at the bottom of the world, we’ve still got some great minds in our universities.
Edit: I was going to point at this article by Dutton “Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology” from a few years back that fleshes some of these arguments out a bit..